19th Century

Trying my hand at hatmaking

I’ve always intended to try a bit of millinery, or at least hat alteration, so last week I finally took the plunge.

I decided to start with something really simple, a 1872 summer hat from the Met’s collection:

Summer hat, 1872, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can’t really get any simpler than that, right?

I thought it would go nicely with the frills of my 1871 pink extravaganza afternoon ensemble.

So I trotted off to an op shop and bought myself a decent straw hat.  It looked like this:

Erm... Not that flash...

Unfortunately I forgot to double-check my inspiration picture, so I got one with a wide braid instead of a narrow.  No matter, I could still make it work.

First thing: take off that hideous raffia ribbon!

So much better! And yeah, I'll take off the price tag too 😉

Then I picked apart the braid at the bottom of the crown.  My inspiration hat has such a shallow crown that I could save the whole original brim and use it for another hat, and make the tiny brim of my inspiration hat from the bottom of the crown.

Unpicked crown, a bit of braid, the original brim. And Felicity.

Then I started sewing, turning my loose braid into a new tiny brim, and then into a tiny turn up.

Felicity helped with that part too

It was easy but time consuming sewing, but a few episodes of River Cottage later and I had a decent hat.

Ta da!

A bit of rose-red ribbon later, and some big fake flowers to add ‘oomph’ to my hair, and I wore it for a photoshoot with the pink extravaganza:

Straw hats on rainy days. What can I say. It was the 1870s.

The hat isn’t quite perfect, I have some issues with the fit that I want to tweak (I also have some issues with the pink extravaganza, but that is a topic for another post!), but for a first try, I’m pretty satisfied.

Yep, not bad for a first try!

I guess the same could be said of the pink extravaganza though!  It was my first proper Victorian!


  1. i think it is adorable and looks perfect with your ensemble. the flowers UNDER the hat are also perfect.

  2. This is darling! I’ve often thought of buying a plain straw hat and remaking it into something historic, but it never occurred to me to simply unpick the straw. I always figured I’d have to cut the thing apart, steam it to hold the new shape, and bind the cut edges. Too much trouble, so I never tried. But this! This is brilliant. Just pick apart the straw and re-coil it into something new. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

    • Madame Ornata says

      I thought the same thing too. However, I have recently unpicked a large black sombrero, re-sewed the crown straw and voila! I am now the proud owner of a big brimmed, black Gibson girl hat – and it was very very easy! Now I have many plans for more……..

  3. very well done. However you could have saved yourself some time by soaking your hat in water and then turning the brim up and holding it in place with ribbons until it dried. It would have taken the shape afterwards.

    • Cute, but I don’t have the right dress to go with it! And it’s really hard to see because the picture is so bad 🙁 And I’d much rather be inspired by an actual historical piece than a movie costume 🙂

      • Elise says

        How does movie costume recreation work? Are you allowed to overtly copy a look seen in a film, or are you effectively stealing someone’s intellectual property? I always wondered because have you ever looked at mainstream patterns of film-based costumes? They are completely different. Just wondered.

        • I’m not sure of the whole legalities of directly copying a film costume, but this is my best (educated) guess.
          – If you change the design more then 20% it is legal, hence the mainstream patterns that are quite different.
          -If you are a home sewing, and make a direct copy for your own use, it may be copyright infringement, but in most cases, they probably don’t care, or even like it (because it helps create publicity/hype for the film).
          -If you are a custom seamstress and make a direct copy for sale, it’s almost certainly copyright infringement, but since it’s such small scale, as long as you don’t use if for a lot of publicity, the copyright holder probably isn’t going to come after you.
          -The more replica’s you create, and the higher your profile for making them, the better the chances that the owners of the intellectual copyright will come after you….unless you take them beyond replicas and start using them for parody or commentary. So if you made 1000 perfect replicas of Dumbledore’s cloak and used them in a performance art piece, you might get away with it.

          • Adela says

            You can however make reproductions of reproductions, if the costume is a replica of a non copyrightable real world piece to start with like many historical pieces. And if the costume is generic or non original design you can copy those. You can also copy component non original elements (no one has claim over empire waist). What’s protected is unique, new, creative designs as a whole. So the green evening dress in Atonement is probably copyrighted as a specific item but a green satin bias cut art deco dress following historical examples is not. This why knockoff designs can happen. This would be why designers will find a way to make something specific about their work that will count towards a new, original, creative and copyrightable design.

          • I did some research into copyright law as regards to fashion a couple years back, and it’s my understanding that the “20% difference” concept no longer holds up in court. A pattern must be seen as significantly different in order to be considered something new, not a mere percentage.

            This is just off the top of my head, but I seem to recall they said that, for some reason, fashion is not copyrightable. Patterns are protected by law, so you can’t knock off someone’s exact pattern and then sell it, and you can’t make garments based on someone else’s pattern and then sell them. (Though in some cases, you are allowed to buy a pattern in order to make it for a customer. You just can’t make a bunch of garments from the pattern and then try to sell them.)

            From what I recall, you can look at a garment and then copy it exactly, and it’s not *technically* infringement. That’s how knock-off garments are made, and why it’s okay to copy film costumes. The costume design is not considered “protected” only the exact patterns used to make the garment. So you can copy a costume as closely as you want, provided you didn’t sneak a copy of the patterns used.

            That was my understanding of the law, anyway. It could have changed, of course, or I could have misunderstood part of it. It’s worth looking into, if you’re worried! Definitely find out the facts, though–there are a lot of websites out there that are giving out wrong or outdated copyright information. I had to sift through a lot of misinformation before I found the facts–and of course, it’s been so long now, things might be different.

  4. Well done it looks the part, and fabulous, what a fun project. It seems a few of our blogging community are looking at hats at the moment, isn’t it funny how this little network seems to flow together. I love it. Looking forward to catching up with you in Tauranga in June.

  5. Madame Ornata says

    Great work, it is adorable! The pink is just perfect. I think that we should organise that hat-making workshop sooner rather than later. Hats are definitely where it’s at.

  6. Jay says

    Yeah I know it’s dress up box stuff but still like it.
    The shape reminds me of a sea shell and lacy weave along brim softens the whole hat so it looks more natural than having a solid heavy straw braid right next to the face.
    I love stained glass windows so love the way light and shadow play on faces and fabric when walking under trees and wearing silly hats.

    • Oh, it might very well be based exactly on a historical example, and not be dress up at all! I’d just want to look at the historical example (which also, as above, avoids any copyright issues). The play of light on the face is lovely, and there are many historical examples of lacy hats.

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